Joanna Cassidy was born on 2 August 1945 in Camden, New Jersey. She grew up in a creative environment as the daughter and granddaughter of artists. At an early age, she engaged in painting and sculpture and went on to major in Art at Syracuse University in New York. During her time there, she married Kennard C. Kobrin in 1964, a doctor in residency, and found work as a fashion model to help work his way to a degree. The couple eventually moved to San Francisco, where Kobrin set up a psychiatric practice and Cassidy continued modeling and gave birth to a son and daughter. Following their divorce ten years later, she moved to Los Angeles in a bid for an acting career. Joanna Cassidy is best known for her roles as the replicant Zhora in Ridley Scott’s cult film “Blade Runner” (1982) and Dolores in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (1982). Her other roles include, among many others, “Under Fire”, “The Fourth Protocol”, “The Package” and “Where the Heart is”. She has played Margaret Chenowith on the HBO drama series “Six Feet Under”, Joan Hunt on the ABC series “Body of Proof” and Candace Von Weber on the Bravo scripted series “Odd Mom Out”.
At this year’s Oldenburg International Film Festival, Tara Karajica talks to Joanna Cassidy, the 2015 Tribute honoree and recipient of the Star of Excellence and the German Independence Honorary Award, about hard work, strong will, beauty, TV and Tom Hardy!
Congratulations on the Tribute, the “Star of Excellence” and the German Independence Honorary Award!
Joanna Cassidy: Thank you! Thank you!
How do you feel about your work being acknowledged and shown here in Oldenburg?
J.C.: I have to say… Whenever I get acknowledged, I can hardly believe it.
J.C.: Well, I guess I’m just one of those people that finds it very difficult to get into my brain what I’ve accomplished. That may sound odd to you but…
I understand you because I am the same but I cannot believe it when it comes from you!
J.C.: I know! I know! But, I don’t have that kind of ego… I don’t have that! I see how people react to me and, believe me, I love the acknowledgement! I love it! Because when I work, I work very hard. I put 1000% into what I do and I want to see the result on that screen. I want people to believe me, which is why I change my look so much, you know. I don’t want to look the same. Some actors like it because they’re recognized all the time. I don’t want to be recognized! I want to disappear in Film and TV. I don’t want you to know who I am. Good. You see my name, come to see it. But, don’t know who I am. You know what I mean?
J.C.: And, I’ve had enough people say it to me that they didn’t know it was me until I left, so that’s a compliment to me. I think that one of the hardest things for me is growing older…
May I ask why, again?
J.C.: Because fame is equated to such an equation… Beauty… Listen, I’m not saying that there isn’t ageism… There is! Of course! It’s in every profession. But, I’m very funny: I watch myself and I try not to make a big splash… I’m like a river that flows. I just want to keep going down the river. That’s what I want to do… I don’t necessarily need to make that huge film, and then do three flops afterwards. If I just keep going steadily, working, my life will be very full as it has been so far.
Talking about continuity and hard work…You’ve been able to maintain a certain longevity and achieved that constant flow and that is quite remarkable in Hollywood today, especially when a lot of people make this big film and then, they disappear, and try desperately to make a comeback. This has certainly not been your case and that’s admirable. It takes a lot of strong will and passion to be able to do that…
J.C.: I would say will is one of my best attributes… Because I certainly have that! When I came to Hollywood I was a single mother and had two children to take care of. I had no idea what I was going to do. I went to a modeling agency and did a year of that – not very successfully, not the big time, skinny model, ‘cause I just wasn’t – but I made a living. And then, I introduced myself to a casting agent. I just called her up, and I said, “I think you should meet me.” And, I met her and she put me in a movie! Like that! *Snaps her fingers*. So, that’s will power! That is knowing what you want and going after it! I used to call myself an ankle-biter! Because once you get hold of that ankle, you don’t let go! And they’re just gonna pull you right along and then you have to let go before they fall off the road!
Exactly! And, then you have to find another ankle to bite! But, it is important to keep true to oneself. It’s easy to get lost in Hollywood, right?
J.C.: The truth of it is that I am very good at a lot of things! I do interior design. I’m an artist. I’m a photographer. And, I’m writing now so I have other things that I resonate to. I love beauty in any form. I try to create it. I put it around me in my home. That’s inspiring to me so my mind is full all the time. I’m always working on something.
Of all your roles, which one is your favorite?
J.C.: I loved my character in Six Feet Under. I loved it in Call Me Fitz, with Jason Priestley. They were so opposite and so much fun to do. I just felt like I attacked them with such ferocity that it all worked. And, they were fun to do!
It is important to see the fun! I also see the fun in Odd Mom Out. It’s hilarious! I love it! Talking about mothers, you played a lot of them… Aren’t you afraid of being sort of boxed in as the mother figure in TV series?
J.C.: It’s possible… I can… But, I also don’t mind that. I have to remind my agents all the time that I am a very singular person, that I can be a character that belongs to no one. I’m all my own being and maybe I have to write it, you know, because I don’t like this belonging stuff. To me, it’s alienating. And, it’s not interesting. Now, a lot of those two mothers that I’ve mentioned before, they were very interesting and full and dark and funny and they hit all the levels. Some of the mothers I play don’t hit the mark. I mean, I try… but the situation has to be there… But, in a lot of the television shows that I looked at this year, I was admiring some of the characters that are just women that are just off; they don’t have to have that nucleus around them, all the family… They’re singular and I love that!
If I wanted to be a female director, I would certainly press to do it and I’m sure I would meet a lot of resistance.
In that regard, there are some very strong female characters in TV now and, at the same time, series are becoming very popular. There is so much good writing in TV today and TV has finally become a very “respected” format. How has it changed? Because, when you started out, you were the only actress of your generation who had no problem working in both Film and TV…
J.C.: People want to get their work out. They can’t wait for a film to be financed and, you know, all these creative people need to work. So, TV is gonna make it happen for them. Movies used to be IT and everyone was getting hired and everybody had a job and it’s just not that way anymore. It’s harder to sell a feature film than it is television. And, that’s what these young writers are doing; they’re selling their work and getting it on! Boom! Bang! You know, they’re getting it done! So, that’s the difference now, which is why the intelligence and that fine art of writing and producing is coming into TV.
There’s now the narrative about diversity and equality in Hollywood and how there are not enough female directors, how actress are not paid enough… How do you feel about that?
J.C.: You know, it’s an issue. I’m hoping that everyone will work that out. If I wanted to be a female director, I would certainly press to do it and I’m sure I would meet a lot of resistance. There’s no doubt that it’s the men’s world! There’s no question about it! No question. But, I think it can be done with that persistence, you know. That sense of will power. You have to do it somewhere. If that’s what you want to do, you’ll do it. It’s true! It’s unequal, you know! It really is! But, that’s the state of things. And, there’s going to have to be a huge movement to change that. I can’t be one person. My energy is not going to go into that. It will be about getting more beauty out into world in whatever form it comes in, whether it’s being ugly or being raunchy, or funny or serious, or whatever it is! That’s MY purpose and MY goal.
You’ve been in Blade Runner and Star Trek and you’re a huge part of the “geek” sub-culture. How do you feel about that and the fact that people dress as your characters at Comic Cons, for instance?
J.C.: I’m glad that it has such a formidable presence. I’m very glad about that. I think it’s great! I am part of it! I mean, you know, think about it: now, these “geeks” have a venue that they can play with, become important. I mean, I’ve done some of these shows where people dress up as the characters. How wonderful for them to be able to come out like that! I think it’s terrific!
What makes a Hollywood star?
J.C.: Talent, courage, strength, mysticism, cooperation, beauty (and not always – ‘cause you see, some of the stars are not but I’m sad to see it going that way because movie stars should be movie stars –) and luck…
Apart from Odd Mom Out, do you have anything else in the pipeline?
J.C.: Not at the moment! But, I could go back on Monday and have something waiting for me, which makes my life very exciting! And, that’s how it’s been happening, which is good! But, I’m hoping that what will come to me next will be another big adventurous project. I would love to do a Mad Max! I love Tom Hardy! Oh My Gosh! He’s so good! He’s so talented! A wonderful actor!
This interview was conducted at the 2015 Oldenburg International Film Festival.